Blending In vs. Going All In

by New Church Starts

 by Jim Ozier, Director of New Church Development and Congregational Transformation for the North Texas Conference (and Path 1 Associate)

“May the odds be ever in your favor.” Motto from The Hunger Games

 This seems to be a popular saying at the moment. A process of discipleship does not guarantee making new and effective disciples for Jesus Christ, but it certainly improves the odds. Along with that is an insatiable hunger to reach new people and to bring them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. But these aren’t hunger games. This is serious business and the stakes are eternal, so it needs to be the highest priority for a new church!

That’s why I was glad to sit across the table from Steve Howard. “Being part of a new church changed my life and my wife’s life,” said Steve.  “Because that’s not only where we found our faith, but that’s where it grew and made us the people we are today.”

“Tell me more,” I prodded.

“Like lots of folks, we started shopping around for churches because something was missing in our lives and we couldn’t quite put our finger on it.  So when we started visiting around we went as ‘Middlers’.” 

“Middler?” I asked.

“Yeah…you know. When we arrived we parked in the middle of the parking lot, walked in in the middle of the crowds, sat in the middle of the sanctuary just trying to blend in. We were attending a big church (easy to blend in) so we went a few times.  One of those Sundays we heard about a new thing: starting a new church. So my wife and I were curious and decided to check it out. 

“And from the first Sunday in an elementary school auditorium we were able to move from ‘blending in to fitting in.’ We didn’t know it at the time, but the pastor was discipling us. We went to a Bible study. Soon we were teaching a Bible study and attending others along with classes about the gospel, about Jesus, and about what it meant to live out our faith. At the same time they were getting us involved in helping on Sundays, serving in ministries during the week, going on mission trips, etc. You know, before we knew it we were all in!”

As Steve spoke, I picked up on the process of discipleship that had changed his life:  From ‘blending in’ to ‘fitting in’ to ‘pitching in’ to ‘going all in’.  Steve and his wife have been instrumental in helping Creekwood UMC grow into a vibrant worshipping congregation of more than 700 people in a beautiful campus.

New churches are encouraged to find creative metaphors to communicate their discipleship process.  When the Congregational Developer in Nebraska, Nita Hinds-Park invited me to work with one of her churches in Lincoln (Horizons UMC,) I loved their use of the metaphor “The River” to portray an exciting and refreshing process of discipleship: Gather at the river (worship), Climb Aboard (get involved), Journey together (growth opportunities), Ride the Rapids (service & mission), and Bring Others Along (getting others involved).

To move a first time guest into full commitment and growth, other churches utilize similar metaphors, but it’s all about the same thing:  an intentional way to grow in faith and move from blending in to fitting in to going all in!

Discipleship is a journey. What course would you set?